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Wednesday, 16 December 1992
Page: 5174

Senator CAMPBELL —Is the Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support aware of the growing complaints of industry about the stalled micro-reform process, as expressed in the Industry Commission's annual report? It states:

In some areas reform has produced productivity gains but gains do not seem to have passed on to users. Shipping is a frequently cited example.

It goes on to state:

The retention of cabotage is a restriction on further competition that should be addressed.

Can Australian business look forward to an end to what yesterday's Australian Financial Review calls `the high cost of cabotage', or is shipping what the Prime Minister referred to when he said on 2 December `the big agenda of the mid-80s is largely behind us', and on Lateline when he said that micro-reform was `mostly completed' and `what else do you want me to do?'?

Senator COOK —The Cabinet deliberations on shipping reform will remain confidential; I will not comment on the media speculation about them. Shipping reform in Australia is widely perceived as a model of non-confrontationist, non-divisive reform which has achieved significant gains and improvement for Australian ship users. Just the other day an international shipper was in my office and said, `In the old days before you effected this reform, we could be absolutely sure when our ships would arrive in Australia—we couldn't be sure when they would depart. Now we can be sure of both. Thank you very much, government, for enabling that reform to occur'.

  As a consequence of our reform, the average crew has been reduced by 25 per cent, from 28 on average to under 21 crew members, thereby matching the level of OECD ships visiting Australia; new ships are now being introduced with crews of 17, compared to 21 three years ago; increased labour productivity over the life of the program will result in long term savings of $50m per annum to the industry; retraining has been provided to more than 1,900 seafarers to facilitate crew reductions through multi-skilling; and industrial disputation has fallen, with only 70 ship days lost in 1992, compared to 1,593 ship days lost in the last year of the coalition government.

  The Government's reform program has meant that investors in the industry have been encouraged, and they have invested nearly $2 billion in the launching of 31 more new, modern ships for Australia, with another five on order. That is a mark of the confidence that industry has had in the cooperative and harmonious reform climate we have created on the Australian coast.

  In terms of cabotage, the coalition leaves me aghast. What does it want on the Australian coast? Does it want a rust bucket crewed by Asian crews living on a grain of rice a day and a kick up the backside to keep them interested? Is that what the Opposition wants? The Australian industry is a highly trained, highly skilled and highly efficient industry that delivers a very good service that is valued by its users.

Senator CAMPBELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Industry Commission recognises the reforms that have taken place but also recognises that the savings have not been passed on to exporters. My supplementary question is: is the Government's excuse for not taking away cabotage that we want to single-handedly solve the problem of the world's dilapidated shipping fleet, at great cost to our exporters and particularly exporters from Western Australia; or is it that Senator Cook does not want to cause any problems with his union mates prior to the next election? What is the reason?

Senator COOK —I thought it would be the case that today Senator Campbell would try to work into a question some reference to my alleged union mates. It may escape the notice of the Opposition that this Government acts on principle to bring about reforms in the best interests of the nation without regard to the particular interests of any group, and that concerns some of those people who argue about things that Senator Campbell has just argued about.

  I said at the beginning of my answer that I will not comment on confidential deliberations of Cabinet. They will be announced in due course. The honourable senator will have to sit quietly and wait for us to do so and respond, if he chooses, then.

  As Senator Collins pointed out in a number of interjections, the Industry Commission report should be read in full and not selectively. If it is, and if it is not used as some sort of selective stick to beat us with but rather as a comprehensive understanding of reform, I do not think Senator Campbell will find very much support at all for his contentions.